THE ROLE OF THE ‘LUTA REGIONAL BAIANA’ IN THE AFRO-BRAZILIAN CULTURAL HYBRIDISATION
During the third decade of this century, that is, when I was around seven years old, I began to notice the difficulties that African cultural activities encountered in Salvador.
Despite my mixed-blood origin (indigenous, African, Portuguese, and Italian), the cultural lineage was clearly white, and I could perceive the oldest generation’s subtle repulsion to the common Afro-Brazilian customs.
The Bahians accepted, to a good degree, the presence of African tidbits in their diet and in the humble work of African descendants; however, they looked down on African cultural manifestations.
The prohibition of African customs and religions was evident in samba – which was considered a practice of bums, unemployed and delinquent people – and above all in the ferocious persecution of candomblé and capoeira.
In the 1930 revolution, I noticed the flight of the feared Pedro Gordilho, who was made fearsome by his removal from the role of Police Chief by the revolutionaries and by the awareness of his unjust and inhuman persecution of the people of Salvador and their cultural manifestations.
The fact was most notable to my eyes because I heard gossip that the Military Command of the Region had entrusted my father with the guard, protection, and removal of the frightened ex-executioner from the reach of the just retribution longed for by the victims of his abuses of power.
The victims included Lídio, for being a pandeiro player and samba dancer of Saúde square, as well as other “bums, troublemakers, and unemployed people,” bohemians.
And the restrictions were extended to the genial Dorival Caymi, whose passion for our peoples’ music and the lack of more convenient transportation drove him to Itapoan on foot in order to sing and play with the fishermen. From this arose his marvelous creations of Yoruban tonality, which were considered inconvenient (a “bad example,” capable of misdirecting the youth…). The restrictions also affected Osvaldo, my neighbor and childhood friend, because of his intimacy with Afro-Brazilian customs.
Even today I hear the seller announcing, “marketing” we used to say, punctually at ten o’clock P.M. through the streets of Saúde and Godinho, his selling cry of “Iê-êêê… acarajé…” Yoruban accent…
This contrast between the acceptance of African culinary manifestations and the rejection of African cultural manifestations was changed after the 1930 revolution thanks to the arrival in Salvador of two men from Ceará. These men were transformed into admirers of African culture thanks to capoeira and the charisma of Manoel dos Reis Machado, Mestre Bimba.
Cisnando Lima, passionate for martial arts, came to Salvador in order to study medicine, bringing with him the desire to learn capoeira, which was sung about in verse and prose in the legends of his birth land. Upon arriving here, he stayed in the neighborhood of the Sergeant Inspector Juracy Montenegro Magalhães, to whom we owe the great social revolution that recognized African culture as legitimate in all its manifestations, especially capoeira and candomblé.
Cisnando, who enjoyed closeness with Inspector Juracy Magalhães as part of his personal guard, set up a private demonstration of the capoeira of Bimba and his students (“whites,” the academics, and those “from the country” ). This demonstration provoked the admiration, respect, and consideration of the highest state authority for our Mestre and for Capoeira, thus opening the path for the later demonstration for President Getúlio Vargas and beginning the final phase of the integration of African culture in our country.
It is thus that Bimba, through Cisnando, arrived at Juracy, who conducted Bimba and his students to Getúlio, who legalized capoeira, recognizing it as the Brazilian national martial art and later making its practice official through the Ministry of Education.
The acceptance of capoeira as a legal practice is therefore due to the work and to the charisma of Manoel dos Reis Machado, Mestre Bimba, the instrument who initiated the downfall of the prejudices and discrimination against black cultural manifestations.
And through the entrance that our Mestre opened with the social tool of capoeira, all the many festive, religious, secular, and sporting Afro-Brazilian practices left the realm of illegality.
Initially the liberation, with the permission of the police to conduct festive and religious cultural manifestations, still had scheduling limits. For example, they could not be practiced after certain hours, under the pretext of perturbation of silence.
It was an important step in the implantation of democracy in our country, since true democracy is based in the equality of rights and duties among men united by mutual respect and fraternal love.
In this way, Bimba is a historical figure as important as Zumbi dos Palmares in the social evolution of black culture in Brazilian society and the modernization of Brazilian society that began with the 1930 revolution.
These important facts have recently been spread by the activity of contemporary mestres who brought the liberating and democratizing message of capoeira to all the corners of our country and to the rest of the world.
It is important to emphasise that despite the evolution of the “regional” dynamic, accompanied slowly and progressively by the group of angoleiros, as well as the modification of the literary- philosophical content of the songs because of adaptation to the cultural environments in which the art was implanted, the individual personalities of today’s mestres, and the current historical situation of the country and of the world – despite all this, the toque of the berimbau maintains the axé of capoeira constant, making each capoeirista a unit in the harmonious whole of Capoeira.
In this way, each capoeira song is a hymn of liberty, equality, and fraternity, as the French revolutionaries would say.
Champion of the black race!
Liberator of African culture!
Source: Mestre Decânio. Talking about Capoeira. Translated into English by Shayna McHugh, 2005